The 42-strong Visayan bloc in the House of Representatives will have a united stand when the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is taken up in the plenary, a move that may determine the fate of the measure.
Negros Occidental Rep. Albee Benitez, the leader of the Visayan bloc, bared the group’s stand a day before the plenary vote.
Members of the bloc belong to the ruling Liberal Party (LP) of which Benitez is a member, Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) and the National Union Party (NUP).
Majority of the House members are from LP (110). The NPC and NUP has 36 and 23 respective House seats, respectively.
“We have decided that we will vote as one once this is taken to the plenary. We feel better if we will decide as a bloc,” Benitez said during the Ugnayan sa Batasan News Forum.
Prior to the Committee approval of the Bangsamoro, the Visayan bloc consulted with Moro Islamic Liberation Front Chairman Mohagher Iqbal, former Chief Justice Hilario Davide, Jr. former Supreme Court Justice Florentino Feliciano, as well as the members of the government peace panel to be appraised of the BBL provisions.
Aside from the 42, the bloc also has four honorary members because of their Visayan roots — Representatives Gina Reyes of Marinduque, Sonny Collantes of Batangas, Cesar Sarmiento of Catanduanes and Pedro Acharon of South Cotabato.
Benitez said their group has expressed concerns that passage of the BBL measure would worsen the problem on smuggling in Mindanao because the bill grants the Bangsamoro government the exclusive power to barter and trade with Southeast Asian countries. The goods or items that are traded will not be sold elsewhere in the country without payment of appropriate customs or import duties.
Likewise, the provision states that traditional barter trade and counter-trade would refer to all cross-border trade of all goods not otherwise considered illicit since time immemorial between the Bangsamoro areas and Southeast Asian countries.
“There are concerns that this could result in smuggling. Our Customs bureau is really not up to standard, so there are concerns that such gateway will be used for smuggling that can spill over to Visayas,” Benitez said.
However, the lawmaker said the Visayan bloc will not stand in the way of peace.
“Definitely, there is wisdom in the BBL. We are for peace and so we think this is worth looking into to ensure that it will be within the framework of the Constitution,” Benitez said in closing.